Friedman’s ‘Crazy, Radical Idea’

Looking over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intransigence on the settlement issue, Tom Friedman concludes that “Israel today really is behaving like a spoiled child“:

Please spare me the nonsense that President Obama is anti-Israel. At a time when the president has made it one of his top priorities to build a global coalition to stop Iran from making a nuclear weapon, he took the very logical view that if he could advance the peace process in the Middle East it would give him much greater leverage to get the Europeans and U.N. behind tougher sanctions on Iran. At the same time, Obama believed — what a majority of Israelis believe — that Israel can’t remain a Jewish democracy in the long run if it continues to control 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. […]

I know this is a crazy, radical idea — when America asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security but would actually enhance it, there is only one right answer: “Yes.” It is a measure of how spoiled Israel has become that after billions and billions of dollars in U.S. aid and 300,000 settlers already ensconced in the West Bank, Israel feels no compunction about spurning an American request for a longer settlement freeze — the only purpose of which is to help the United States help Israel reach a secure peace with the Palestinians. Just one time you would like Israel to say, “You know, Mr. President, we’re dubious that a continued settlement freeze will have an impact. But you think it will, so, let’s test it. This one’s for you.”

It’s a testament to the strange contours of the U.S.-Israel-Palestine debate in Washington that the notion that Israel might owe the U.S. some deference in return for the considerable amount of military, financial, and diplomatic aid given over the past decades actually does constitute a crazy, radical idea.

To put this in a bit of context, let’s understand there’s simply no serious argument to be made that President Obama hasn’t been, by any objective measure, an extremely pro-Israel president. He has remained committed to ensuring Israel’s qualitative military edge, raising the amount of U.S. military aid to Israel, making it the single largest expense of the 2010 foreign aid budget. Obama also authorized $205 million to enable Israel to complete its Iron Dome short-range missile defense system.

Obama has significantly increased the level of strategic dialogue and the depth of intelligence coordination between our two countries, particularly in regard to Iran. According an Israeli official I spoke to in June, that coordination is now “even better than under President Bush.”

Obama has expanded trade between Israel and the U.S., and played an extremely important behind-the-scenes role in bringing about Israel’s acceptance into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Obama went before the United Nations General Assembly in September and challenged the international community to support Arab-Israeli peace, insisting before the world that “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” declaring that “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”

And yet, when President Obama, acting in the clear security interests of both the U.S. and Israel, undertook, in the pursuit of a peace agreement, to hold Israel to a settlement freeze to which it had already agreed, he was rebuffed. After months of cajoling Obama finally got Netanyahu to agree to a partial, temporary freeze, which has now expired, with Netanyahu refusing to extend it despite a staggeringly generous offer of additional incentives from Obama.

For this attempt to treat a signed agreement with a client state as if it had actual meaning, Obama has drawn accusations of being “anti-Israel” from American conservatives. Are these charges driven by ignorance, or dishonesty, or by genuine psychosis? I don’t know.

Either way, such delusions are enabled by an unfortunate number of ostensibly “serious” establishment journalists, such as the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, who used his column yesterday to lay the blame for the settlements impasse at the feet of every party except the one refusing to meet its pre-existing commitments.

It’s all fine and good to criticize the Obama team’s settlements strategy, I would probably join in, but it seems pretty strange to write an entire column on the subject without noting, just as a simple matter of fact, that the government of Israel agreed to a complete settlement freeze under the 2003 road map, and has since that time simply refused to honor that agreement. Maybe Diehl doesn’t want to be seen as anti-Israel. Or maybe he just doesn’t have a clue.